This is my seventhweek at Gladstone’s Library and I have found the time (and the courage) to finally post a blog about my experience so far! Finding the time has been a challenge because the past few weeks have been incredibly busy and the courage … well, I’ve never had to write something of this length in English before!
What you’re going to get today is a short glimpse of Gladstone’s Library. Here at the library we actually do Glimpse tours 3 times a day – 7 days a week. This way the general public get a chance to have a look at the beautiful and historic Reading Rooms with minimum interruption to our users. I am currently leading one Glimpse a day from Monday to Friday, which whilst daunting at first has become an enjoyable part of the my work day.
So, first I’ll tell you something about William Ewart Gladstone, the Great Old Man and our founder, and a little something about the collection. Here in Great Britain, Gladstone is really well known however in Switzerland he is not. Or at least, I had never heard of him before I applied to work at the Library and I thought to myself “If I’m going to work in Gladstone’s Library I should at least know who he is”.
Gladstone was born in Liverpool in 1809 and was the preeminent politician of his time. He was a member of Parliament for 62 years and remains Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister
Gladstone became known as ‘The People’s William’ because he fought for the rights of the working classes. An example of this is the Education Act of 1870, which was the first law to advocate education for everybody, regardless of class. He also fought for Human Rights and was one of the first people to use the phrase ‘crimes against humanity’. He is especially known for fighting for the rights of the Bulgarian and Armenian people whose Christian population were heavily persecuted by the Ottoman Empire in the 1870s-90s. The library still owns the silver wreath that the Armenians laid of Gladstone’s tomb in Westminster Abbey as a token of thanks in 1909.
Aside from politics he was a great reader and scholar. He was fluent in 5 different languages (not including English) and owned around 32,000 books when he died. We know that he read 22,000 of them as he kept very detailed diaries, and around 10,000 of his books have annotations. This means that he read just short of a book a day during his lifetime; seeing as he was such an important politician I doubt he ever slept!
Today the library hold 130,000 books, 8,000 of which were printed before 1800 and several in the 15th century. As you can see the collection has grown quite a lot of and the library focuses it’s collecting on Gladstone’s four main areas of interest – history, politics, literature and theology.
The library was founded by the same Gladstone I have just told you about in 1896. It’s the only Prime Ministerial Library in the country and the only residential library that we know of. Gladstone lived in Hawarden for 40-45 years which was why he built his library in the welsh village. Unfortunately, Gladstone never saw the library completed as he died in 1898.
Gladstone however did his bit for the library whilst he was still alive. He is said to have wheeled his own books from Hawarden Castle down to the Tin Tabernacle (the temporary library that had been built) by himself. He was in his 80s at this point so I have my doubts as to whether or not this is true.
The building itself was finished in 1906 and opened by Kind Edward VII in 1908.
Today the library is opened from 9am – 10pm seven days a week for residents and Friends and from 9am-5pm for Readers Monday-Saturday.